Another Thanksgiving is behind us, and the season for tinsel, sleigh bells, and more overeating is upon us. For many of us, it is also the time to revisit holiday specials. Spool up those annual classics that we can recite by rote at any given moment.
Do you ever sit back and think, “I could write one of these”? Why haven’t I penned a holiday classic? Well, you’re in luck. Today on the Writing Bug, we’re talking about all the story elements you need to create the ultimate holiday classic.
-I don’t care if you are the lead character, you are THIS close to the naughty list, pal!
Holiday protagonists generally have a dour view on life.
Holiday stories feature flawed or even downright villainous heroes in need of some redemption. Whether their hearts are two sizes too small, they’re weighed down by all the commercialism, or they’re trapped in Bedford Falls, they can’t seem to get into that holiday spirit. What’s worse? They are surrounded by people who brimming with the stuff. And they can’t stand it!
If all the Whos in Whoville aren’t singing their weird Dahoo Dores song, then well-intentioned relatives are inviting us to family get-togethers. People will be brimming with holiday spirit and holiday spirits. And they’ll be having fun dancing cartoonish dances to Schroeder’s toy piano that makes sounds no toy piano should be able to make. All that joy and merrymaking is enough to drive anyone to the Island of Misfit Toys.
With a few notable exceptions (I’m looking at you, Mr. Potter), there are no actual villains in a holiday story. At worst, someone might call your protagonist a blockhead. Since an antagonist’s role is to thwart the hero, and the hero of our story is on a cold-hearted path to self-destruction, holiday antagonists can be relatively harmless.
Maybe they’re the spirits of Christmas what-have-you or irrepressibly jubilant Whos. Or perhaps they are angels working an angle or someone trying to save the town. The point is somebody is going to have to stop the train wreck before it runs right off the warm and fuzzy tracks.
Give Hope and Joy more gritty determination than Bruce Willis in Die Hard.
In the face of brutal humbuggery, the prospect of life without a Red Ryder BB gun, and a glowing genetic nasal affliction, Hope and Joy will win the day. They will stare all those impossible odds right in the eyes and say, “Yippie ki-yay, Santa’s helper!”
They will chisel through the stoniest hearts, sing joyous songs without so much as a can of Who-hash to eat, and shine like a red beacon through the foggiest night.
The power of this force will make hearts grow three sizes too big or inspire crotchety old misers to purchase prize turkeys for families in need. Or somehow it will put pine needles on sad little trees that didn’t have them before. And when they’re done with that, Hope and Joy will saunter away from an explosion without looking back.
Oh, and don’t forget the voice of innocence.
May the Frost Be with You. (You knew we were going there, right? It's friggin Baby YODA!)
Whether it’s Tiny Tim, Zuzu Bailey, or Cindy Lou Who, you need an adorable tiny person to give us a line we’ll quote for the ages. Make sure it’s sweet enough to require readers to schedule an appointment with their dentists, while also sufficiently cute to look good on a cross-stitch pattern with snowmen and reindeer.
And that’s it! There is your holiday special. Quick note: while I pulled examples from the unmistakable Christmas holiday stories, there is no saying you couldn’t write about any of the cozy, wintry holidays. As Jack Skellington and Jack Frost could attest.
The rest is up to you. Good luck, and God bless us, everyone.
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By David E. Sharp